France to Launch English-Language News Channel

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France has an answer for America's 24-hour news channels. The country is launching a TV-news service of its own. France 24 is a partnership between a commercial network and the state-run France Televisions. It'll feature two news channels, one in French, and the other primarily in English.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

And I'm Deborah Amos, in for Renee Montagne.

A new international all-news channel goes on the air next week. It's called France Vingt-Quatre, or in English, France 24. And that's the point, the state-run French channel will broadcast in three languages, including English, and it's an attempt by the government to boost the country's image and influence in the world.

Anita Elash visited France 24's studios as it prepared for the launch. She has this report from Paris.

ANITA ELASH: The staff of the English language channel at France Vingt-Quatre is rehearsing a newscast. They've been doing this several times a day, since the beginning of October, trying to iron out the kinks in one of the French government's most audacious political experiments in recent years.

(Soundbite of broadcast rehearsal)

Unknown Man: Let's go live, now, to the Vatican embassy in Ankara, where the head of the Vatican is receiving…

France Vingt-Quatre starts broadcasting tomorrow, with two 24-hour news channels--one entirely in French, and the other, almost completely in English. There will also be a Web site and a third channel, sometime next summer, in Arabic.

It's the brainchild of French president Jacques Chirac and his Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin.

(Soundbite of broadcast rehearsal)

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking in foreign language)

ELASH: The idea of a French-based channel was hatched shortly after the United States and Britain invaded Iraq. As the French foreign minister, Villepin argued against the war at the United Nations. But when the war went ahead, France felt it hadn't been heard, so the government set aside 80 million Euro a year, to try to get the French point of view across.

(Soundbite of broadcast rehearsal)

Unidentified Man #2: France Vingt-Quatre, International World News, 24 hours a day.

Unidentified Man #3: Welcome to France Vingt-Quatre.

ELASH: So far, France Vingt-Quatre sounds an awful lot like the channel that hopes to provide an alternative to CNN and BBC World.

(Soundbite of France 24 Newscast)

Unidentified Man #4: France Vingt-Quatre questions, confronts, testifies, analyzes.

ELASH: There's the usual news bulletin every half hour, weather reports, talk shows and two business programs. But Jean Lesieur says viewers will notice the difference. He is the executive producer in charge of news magazines and talk shows.

Mr. JEAN LESIEUR (Executive Producer, France 24): This may sound a little bit arrogant but Anglo-Saxon and Arabic channels are a little more self-centered than France Vingt-Quatre will be. France has always been a country where people have loved arguing and debating about all kinds of issues, maybe more than other countries. So France Vingt-Quatre will try to be the reflection of those debates that make up the French society.

ELASH: Lesieur says he doubt much would have changed if the French channel had existed before the war in Iraq started. But he says the debate might have been more balanced, because people would have heard different points of view.

Mr. JEAN-LOUIS MISSIKA (French Media Analyst): I would say it's a bad answer to a good question.

ELASH: Jean-Louis Missika is a French media analyst. He agrees that the European point of view is often ignored in the rest of the world, and that France is right to try to find a way to increase its political influence. But he doubts the channel can survive. He says the market is already saturated and it's too late to start something new.

Mr. MISSIKA: So if you'd create your new business in 2006, it means that you would operational in 2016, and at that time Internet will be the king.

ELASH: But at France Vingt-Quatre, rehearsals are continuing. And Lesieu, echoing the French philosopher Descartes, says that for now, he had only one measure of success.

Mr. LESIEUR: Being on the air is a success already. I mean, existing is a success - it's a big success.

(Soundbite broadcast rehearsal)

ELASH: For NPR News, I'm Anita Elash in Paris.

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